Free Range Consulting, based in Teton Valley, offers the services you would expect from a professional marketing agency: marketing strategy, branding, content and social media. But Kristi Baughman, who owns Free Range, brings some special expertise, too. She’s adept at writing grants — a science in itself — and she’s an expert helping clients who focus on tourism, such as the Yellowstone Teton Territory organization.
YTT had a fantastic year in 2020, despite the challenges of COVID-19.
Of the many organizations that received grants from the Idaho Department of Commerce’s Travel Council, YTT was the only group statewide that kept their funding in place for the year — with great results.
We sat down recently with Baughman to learn what worked for YTT.
East Idaho Business Journal: Yellowstone Teton Territory is made up of what kinds of companies? Who are the members?
Kristi Baughman: YTT is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to increase tourism for six counties in Eastern Idaho. Its members are comprised mostly of lodges, attractions and other direct tourism focused businesses.
EIBJ: When you are planning marketing campaigns for YTT, how do you measure success?
KB: I’m really a “rubber hits the road” kind of person, meaning success is measured in actual sales or, in YTT’s case, lodging revenues. There are of course indicators along the way that help shape how campaigns are structured or what they focus on, like engagement rates on social media posts, impressions from targets ads, etc. But ultimately it’s really about the increase in revenues.
EIBJ: During a “regular” year, what tactics would you use to fill beds? And how have those tactics been working?
KB: YTT got its name from its close proximity to both Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, which is not something Idaho is normally known for. While we benefit from Yellowstone searches on the internet, seasonal closures occur during the winter (and that’s) where we really have the largest room for growth.
Focusing on outdoor recreation and unique events (that are often more affordable compared with other neighboring states) really helps the area stand out and works well to even out the peaks and valleys of the tourism season.
This strategy has been working well, as even the shoulder and winter seasons continue to increase over the years.
EIBJ: How did you pivot in 2020, and why?
KB: I think YTT is fortunate in that even on a “regular year” their assets are organically “COVID friendly,” i.e, lots of elbow room and outdoor recreation. Be it a global pandemic or just normal city life pressures, people value wide-open spaces in a laid-back environment.
So many of the visuals and content we would normally use to encourage visits to Eastern Idaho still ring true.
We have great collaboration from regional tourism focus businesses and worked really hard to extend our summer season as long as we could. As a result, even the month of November saw an increase of 26 percent revenue growth.
EIBJ: What’s working for YTT and why?
KB: Again, we are lucky to have such great assets and it is always an easy sell. But it is not the only thing that draws people to the area. Surveys continuously show just how important friendliness is to them and a big reason for why they return. So I think that it really has a lot to do with the value that each of the businesses puts on customer service and the friendliness of the people they hire. All of these things make my job easier.
EIBJ: As we head into 2021, what advice would you give to Eastern Idaho businesses as they create their own marketing plans?
KB: It is easy to want to spend less on marketing during times of uncertainty, but in all actuality it is the most crucial time to focus on marketing. Take the time to not only know who your audience is, but where they would most likely see what you are selling. This allows you to re-evaluate where you are spending marketing dollars and making sure that those dollars are truly providing a return on investment.